Dolls and Robbery — What Could They Have in Common?

The Heights Library System has a local authors’ collection that is continually growing. Sometimes we stumble upon authors and find that they lived in or were associated with Cleveland Heights in ways that we never could have imagined. Here are two examples of two very different authors with such an association.

Book cover for The Secret Life of The Lonely Doll: The Search for Dare Wright by Jean NathanDare Wright was an accomplished photographer and Children’s author who wrote the very popular The Lonely Doll series in the 1950s and 1960s. After hearing Joan Nathan on NPR talk about the biography she had written called The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll: The Search for Dare Wright, I decided to read this story of Dare Wright’s life.

I was hooked from the beginning as memories of growing up with these books came flooding back. I had an immediate reaction to seeing pictures of the beautiful lonely doll Edith in her pink and gingham dress along with her constant faithful companion, Mr. Bear. Then I got to the part of the book where she moved to Cleveland with her mother and discovered that Dare Wright had been an elementary school student at Coventry School right here in Cleveland Heights and later attended another area school, The Laurel School for Girls! Since our local author collection is housed at our Coventry Library right next to the Coventry School building, this was a serendipitous moment. 

What I thought would be a trip down memory lane soon became an engrossing but somber read as I learned about Ms. Wright’s troubled childhood, adult life and the impact loneliness had on her literary creations. Through interviews, photos, notes and correspondence, Nathan pieces together the tapestry of Dare Wright, a beautiful blonde, who never recovered from the forced separation with her father when she was a young child. This sad and haunted figure is brought to life by Nathan as she explores Dare’s dysfunctional relationship with her loving but manipulative mother and reveals how her photography and writing brought some solace to an otherwise unfortunate existence.

The second author with a Cleveland Heights connection was even more unusual. As I was researching the African American writer, Chester Himes, for inclusion in a Literary African American author list that we were compiling, I began reading a biographical Internet article about him. 

In November of 1928, he used a gun to rob an elderly couple in their Cleveland Heights house, took off with their Cadillac, money and jewelry and motored to Chicago. Book cover for If He Hollers Let Him Go: A Novel by Chester HimesHe was later apprehended there and returned to the Cleveland Heights Police Department. Sentenced to a 20 year term in the Ohio State Penitentiary, he served seven and a half years, and during that time, he began to compose short stories that began his literary career. Hard times followed after his release, but he persevered with his writing while also scratching out a living working various jobs as a waiter, ditch digger and shipyard employee. Over the years he battled frustration and racism and by the time of his death in 1984 he had written 17 novels, more than 60 short stories and two autobiographical books. 

His novel, If He Hollers Let Him Go: A Novel, is an autobiographical story detailing the life of an African American shipyard worker who struggles with racism during WW II. But he may be best remembered for his Harlem Detective series featuring Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones which brings the city and streets of Harlem to life.

Book cover for Cotton Comes to Harlem by Chester HimesOne of the books in the series Cotton Comes to Harlem became a major motion picture in 1970. Himes was one of the first black mystery writers, starting a proud legacy followed many years later by Walter Mosley and his Easy Rawlins series. Though technically not a Cleveland Heights resident, since Himes’ last stop in Cleveland Heights eventually afforded him the free time during his incarceration to pursue his writing, I think we just might want to include him in our local authors’ list!